Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City Hands-On Preview – Fighting Infection
Written Monday, October 31, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
We're surprised that more games don't place you into the shoes of the bad guy, because as everyone knows, it's good to be bad. For the uninitiated, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is a squad-based shooter wherein you're part of a crack Umbrella clean-up team tasked with covering up the original outbreak in the eponymous city. It's 1998, so you're slap-bang in the middle of the events of Resident Evil 2 and 3, where Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield are running around doing their thing, fighting for survival against a horde of G-virus and T-virus infected monstrosities. And you're one of the baddies.
When we last saw the game at E3 this year, it was looking in pretty good shape, but Operation Raccoon City has come along considerably, at least as far as its visuals are concerned. The lighting and character models have noticeably improved, which all adds to the atmosphere of the environments, lending the game that unique Resident Evil style. We're presented with both a hands-off and hands-on demo of Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, which confirms that Nemesis will be in the game, and that Resident Evil 2's mutating scientist William Birkin will have a pivotal role too. In fact, he's the main antagonist for our hands-off demo of the prologue section, which sees your team rendezvous with Alpha Team Leader, Hunk before heading deeper into a laboratory to find Birkin and obtain a sample of the G-virus.
Fighting through zombies and a Spec Ops team, Hunk and your squad take a huge cargo elevator up to Birkin's lab, where the mad scientist has just injected himself with the G-virus and made a break for it. Giving chase, the tables are soon turned on our Umbrella crew as Birkin's infection takes hold, transforming him into the early stages of his mutation, meaning a huge orange eyeball is sprouting in his right shoulder with an arm that has become a gigantic claw. Swinging a huge iron pole with his clawed right arm, Birkin follows the team down a dark corridor of leaking steam pipes and jets of flame, walking through the hazards in his relentless pursuit. Laying laser trip mines and shooting his orange eyeball slows Birkin down, enabling Hunk, Vector, Beltway and the others to get away.
It's out of the frying pan and into the fire though, as the team are set upon by zombie dogs and an army of undead, with Vector floored and bitten by one of the rotten salivating hounds. Rabies alert! Once the coast is clear, Hunk goes back for the missing sample and separates from the team, and the hands-off portion of our demo draws to a close. Time for the hands-on stuff then! Trapped inside a huge library and archive building, we're involved in a mission to destroy vital evidence linking Umbrella to the viral outbreak in Raccoon City. Playing in single-player mode, we're without human aid, but the teammate AI is remarkably solid, helping out when it should with healing and revival where necessary. We decide to play as Hunk's stealthy protege Vector, who's able to cloak himself to get the drop on enemies and is suitably nimble in battle.
Operation Raccoon City is an incredibly tight third-person shooter with a robust automatic cover system that ensures you sidle into barricades and low walls when you're pressed against them without having to push a button. In single-player, you can select your four-strong team from a selection of six operatives each with a different class and expertise, including the burly Beltway, lithe Four-Eyes, medic Bertha, surveillance expert Spectre, assault leader Lupo and recon class Vector. Working our way through the library, we're set upon by zombies and Spec Ops troops, and thanks to some fairly questionable AI, the soldiers are almost as dumb as the undead surrounding them, standing out in the open and failing to present much of a challenge. Hopefully, developer Slant Six will sort this out before the game's release early next year.
Still, we manage to get accosted by a zombie, leaving us vulnerable to gunfire from the Spec Ops intent on rubbing us out. Thankfully, there's a few herbs lying around for a quick health boost, or a first aid spray in your inventory, and later on when we're bitten by a zombie leading to a nasty infection, we press down on the d-pad to administer a viral cure. You can carry one vial of the cure at a time, so you'll need to take care not to contract the virus. Leave an infection long enough, and you'll go wild, as demonstrated when we see Lupo going insane from the virus, attacking the rest of the team. We have to shoot her down to prevent her attacks, but luckily she can be revived and returned to normal after we've killer her. It's a slightly strange system, which we think could do with being tweaked to create some tension, as at present there doesn't seem to be any real threat or penalty for contracting infection. It's possible that you could end up wiping out your team if you go untreated, but that's highly unlikely.
Later in the demo, we decide to get up close and personal with some zombies to mix things up, and there are some gratifying and brutal melee takedowns to execute, with a couple of simple button presses pulling off some cool kill animations, such as Beltway's which involves cramming a grenade into an enemy's mouth. Hold A over a downed foe, and you can even stomp a head into mush to save on bullets. As a military-trained badass, you have all sorts of equipment, including your rifle and sidearm, and grenades to help thin the crowds, meaning that Operation Raccoon City is less survival horror and more a straight-up action title, so don't expect much in the way of real scares unless Slant Six has something special up its sleeve for later in the game.
Operation Raccoon City does manage to wring out a fair bit of tension in its scenarios though, especially when we enter a labyrinthine archive room that's on fire and plagued by Lickers. Crawling all over the walls and ceiling, dispatching all of the Lickers is a bit of a challenge, and the risk of getting cut and bleeding is ever-present too. This attracts more zombies like sharks sniffing out blood, so the quicker you patch up a wound, the better. Upon dealing with the Lickers, it's time to get back to the matter at hand. Earlier, there were servers and hard drives with data on them to be destroyed, and now there's paper documents to track down among the maze of shelves, completing the mission set by our nefarious shadowy employers. There are also data items to pick up for additional XP and concept art unlocks when you bank them at laptops peppered around the levels, so it pays to be thorough in your task to gather all of the incriminating material for Umbrella.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is a major departure for the franchise, but that might not necessarily be a bad thing. As a third-person shooter it works well, although we reckon the game works better as a co-op game than as a single-player experience having tried both. From a narrative perspective, Slant Six has tried to remain as faithful to the Resident Evil canon as possible, but as a 'what if?' story, you will be able to assassinate key protagonist characters, which some fans may find jarring. However, Slant Six is well aware of the expectations that come with developing a Resident Evil game. “There's a certain quality bar and certain style that has to be set,” says Producer, Mike Jones of Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, and in that sense, the game looks set to deliver on that promise at the very least. Quite whether it'll push the right buttons for the die-hard Resident Evil fan however, is another question altogether and one that will have to wait until the game releases next year.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is out on March 20th, 2012 in North America and March 23rd, 2012 in Europe.